A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I graduated college with a degree in psychology.
I was on a mission to improve the mental wellness of all earth’s inhabitants.
But, like so many others, I did nothing with that degree.
Now a world changing psychologist quitter turned web designer, I am still extremely fascinated by psychology. Just now instead of focusing on psychological disorders of the mind, I’m more interested in the psychology of users on the web.
I’ve recently discovered that some of those once long forgotten psychological principles that I crammed into my head back in college, are very much relevant to how a user interacts with a website.
A user who feels confused by the options, the interface, the navigation and so forth will probably feel overwhelmed in their thinking process.
Complicated and confusing interfaces force users to find solutions to problems that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
When your working memory receives more information than it can handle comfortably, leading to frustration and comprised decision-making, cognitive overload happens.
Simply put, cognitive overload is no bueno.
What causes cognitive overload?
- Unnecessary actions – A user’s mind is goal oriented. They want to accomplish their task as fast as possible. So, unnecessary actions force the user to put in more effort thus, testing their patience.
- Overstimulation – It’s hard to focus when too many images, animations, icons, ads, text types and bright colors are fighting for your attention. Every distraction, especially a visually domineering one, derails a user from their task at hand.
- Hick’s Law – describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time –> Too many options can overstimulate the user.
- Too much content – obviously content is super important but displaying too much at the same time in an unorganized manner pulls the mind in too many directions. Its distracting.
- Ambiguous Interface – Vague icons and symbols can confuse even a tech savvy person. A user shouldn’t have to spend a lot time trying to decipher what an icon or symbol means.
- Hidden features – The website navigation should feel intuitive and even if your site provides everything the user needs, they still might not be able to find it.
- Inconsistent format throughout the website – Visual and functional inconsistencies as well as typos and grammatical errors all make the user stop and think which distracts them from the message you’re trying to convey.
How to reduce cognitive overload
Basically the takeaway here is to not make the user think any more than they have to which distracts them from their overarching task.
Preventing cognitive overload is actually quite simple. Keep your design simple.
- Remove redundancies – combine pages or menu items
- Get rid of everything that’s not essential
- Minimize the number of steps users must take or the amount of effort they must expend
- If you have too much content, you must learn how to organize it.
- Chunking – breaking text and multimedia content into smaller chunks to help users process, understand, and remember it better.